Abe Pollin’s son to Ted Leonsis: ‘I really hope you will change your mind’

Abe Pollin’s son to Ted Leonsis: ‘I really hope you will change your mind’

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Leaving downtown Washington and moving the Wizards and Capitals to Northern Virginia would erase part of Abe Pollin’s legacy and wreak havoc on the community around Capital One Arena, the eldest son of the late team owner said in an interview.

“Everybody knows the arena is the anchor for the whole community there, and it would be devastating for the community and, for that matter, for the city in general,” Robert Pollin said in a telephone interview. “And so I’m very strongly opposed.”

Ted Leonsis, head of Monumental Sports, announced in December his intentions to relocate his sports teams to a new arena across the Potomac River in Alexandria, a 4½-mile move that has sparked intense debate from lawmakers, sports fans, Washington business owners and Northern Virginia residents. While the deal has several hurdles to clear, Leonsis has made clear that he plans to leave the District by 2028.

In 1999, Abe Pollin sold the Capitals and minority stakes in the Wizards and the arena to Leonsis, who bought the remaining interest in the sports holdings in 2010 following Pollin’s death. Robert Pollin lives in Massachusetts but maintains close ties to the Washington area and the sports teams his family once owned. He first shared his opposition with Leonsis in an letter last week, pleading with Leonsis to reconsider.

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“I hope you still have an open mind and there is still time to persuade you to not go ahead with it,” he wrote. “Of course, you realize that this move will be devastating to the whole community around the Capital One Arena, and to the economy and spirit of the entire city of Washington. I hope that recognition will be enough to persuade you to stay put.”

Leonsis has given no indication that he’s willing to reconsider, saying “the die is cast.” In a statement to The Post, he said: “Expanding to Potomac Yard is an opportunity to build a championship environment from scratch and reimagine how we can stay competitive and serve as a premier athlete destination for decades to come. I believe creating that culture will lead to consistent championship-level performance on the ice and court. The fans, players, employees, sponsors, business partners, and investors in Monumental Sports are the constituencies I serve directly. This decision was about the growth of our company for the next generation and the space to create the greatest fan experience so we may continue our social impact.”

Abe Pollin, who died in 2009, has long been heralded for almost single-handedly reviving the Chinatown neighborhood in downtown Washington by building the sports arena there in 1997. The building spurred growth for several blocks in all directions and was as much a part of Pollin’s legacy as the Bullets’ NBA title or bringing professional hockey to the nation’s capital. The stretch of F Street NW outside the arena was renamed “Abe Pollin Way” in 2007.

“He knew that the property values were going to go up in the neighborhood, but he chose not to buy anything,” Pollin said of his father. “He said he’s going to benefit just fine and he wanted other people to also benefit from this move. He chose not to take advantage of the upcoming increase in property values, which stands in stark contrast to what we’re seeing. I’m just hoping that a little piece of that can rub off on Ted and his partners. Ted and his partners are very wealthy people, and of course, it’s their teams and their building. But they can also think about contributing and maybe making some relative sacrifice financially.”

Leonsis has donated millions of dollars to a variety of causes across the Washington region over the years, including a $5 million donation last week to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. He also has said his mortgage for Capital One Arena is “the worst building deal in professional sports” and that relocating to Virginia will allow him to build “best-in-class” facilities to benefit fans, athletes and Monumental employees.

Inside Ted Leonsis’s decision to move Wizards, Capitals to Virginia

Pollin said that same mortgage deal is why his father had to take on an investor a quarter-century ago. Pollin said his father turned down better financial offers to keep the teams in Landover, Md., or move them to Northern Virginia or Baltimore, because he saw potential in downtown Washington.

“He turned them all down, and he took on this huge mortgage, to build the arena where he thought it belonged, right in the middle of the city, to do something for the city,” Pollin said.

Leonsis, who long has praised Abe Pollin’s business acumen, points out that when Pollin renegotiated the lease terms in 2007, the former owner created an exit path for the teams to leave Washington by 2028. The lease runs through 2047 but would end by 2027 if bonds that were used to fund facility upgrades are paid off in full. Leonsis says he intends to pay off the remaining principal — more than $30 million — though the city has a different interpretation of the lease terms and feels the teams are contractually obligated to remain downtown through 2047.

Barry Svrluga: Monumental’s arena plan guarantees hurt feelings and messy disputes

In his letter to Leonsis, Pollin noted that his father agreed to the deal with the city because he didn’t want to “overburden the city with financial obligations that could deprive them of funds to pay for the essential things that tax revenue are meant to cover — for example, schoolteachers, firefighters, hospitals, and the like.”

The arena, originally called the MCI Center, opened in December 1997 and has hosted the pro sports teams, as well as Georgetown men’s basketball, college basketball tournaments, concerts, monster truck shows, circus performances and more. In all, it hosts around 220 events each year, according to Monumental Sports, drawing thousands of people downtown and helping support neighboring restaurants, bars and retail stores.

In his letter, Pollin told the former AOL executive that he doesn’t believe Leonsis is “motivated by profits alone,” reminding Leonsis of their early meetings.

“I’m sure you recall, you pledged to me and my father 25 long years ago when we first met and you were bidding on the Caps and part ownership of the arena and Wizards that you fully intended to be a community leader and a mensch,” Pollin wrote. “You made clear then that, in this way, you intended to follow in my father’s footsteps.

“Perhaps you didn’t realize it at the time and still may not realize it today, but the fact that you made that pledge to my father was the single most important factor in him deciding he was willing to sell the Caps to you and to make you his partner in the Wizards and arena.”

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Leonsis and the Pollins have long enjoyed a friendly relationship. The Pollin family still has season tickets to Capitals and Wizards games, and Leonsis stayed in regular contact with Irene Pollin before her death in November 2020. She said in a 2018 interview that she regularly texted Leonsis during the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run that year. The Caps won their first championship 40 years to the day after Pollin’s Bullets won an NBA title.

Though someone else now holds the keys, Pollin said the teams and the arena are still important to his family, as is his father’s legacy, which prompted him to reach out to Leonsis and share his opposition.

“Ted, I will just repeat that I really hope you will change your mind on this matter, and do the right thing for the community,” he wrote. “Doing so will cement your reputation as someone who is truly committed to the well-being of the community, even in a situation when maintaining that commitment to the community may entail some financial sacrifice from you and yo

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